Thursday, April 27, 2017

Mini-reviews: Girl in Disguise and By Any Name

Kate Warne is a unique woman, so she seeks a unique career. She is not content to be a governess or seamstress; instead, she applies to be a Pinkerton detective. Her boss is initially hesitant, but he decides to give her a try. Once she shows what she can do, she becomes a vital part of the Pinkerton team as she can go places and hear things that her male colleagues cannot. Based on the cases of the first female Pinkerton detective, Girl in Disguise follow Kate as she runs right into danger discovering thieves, working as a spy, and maybe even saving the president.

It's great fun to follow Kate from case to case and witness her defy the expectations of her co-workers. Unfortunately, you never quite feel like you know Kate the person. I don't think this is Mcallister's fault though; she writes in the notes that none of Kate's personal records survived. It must be difficult to bring a character to life based on some brief case notes that other people wrote. Even if our protagonist never quite comes off the page, I would still recommend this one as a way to learn a little about an incredible woman who was the first in her field.

Girl in Disguise
By Greer Macallister
Sourcebooks Landmark March 2017
308 pages
Read via Netgalley

Rida's daughters have spent a lifetime trying to understand their strong and enigmatic mother. She met their father Spencer at a dance for officers during WWII, where she was spotted wearing four engagement rings. But Rida leaves all of those men to marry Spencer and spend a lifetime defying the conventions of Spencer's wealthy and ordered family. Rida's daughters know that their time with their elderly mother is short, and they are comparing notes about what they know of their mom.

Like many young people in the 1990s, I loved reading Cynthia Voight's Homecoming series. She excels at writing about the bonds of family and the ways that people both encourage and disappoint their loved ones. So I was excited to see that she had written a novel for adults. This isn't my favorite of her books, but it is a clear-eyed look at the bravery and cost of being an independent woman during the 20th century. Rida is a woman who approaches her marriage or her children with her own rules and expectations and she certainly doesn't let societal norms of the day keep her from becoming a successful landlord before it was acceptable for women to do so.  By Any Name is a great read for anyone who has loved her books before and a perfect introduction to her writing for the reader who is encountering her for the first time.

By Any Name
By Cynthia Voight
Diversion Publishing April 2017
270 pages
Read via Netgalley

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: We Were the Lucky Ones

Sol and Nechuma Kurc are proud of their family. Their five children are beginning to marry and start families of their own. But the Kurcs live in Poland in 1939 and their lives are about to change in ways they cannot fathom. Sol and Nechuma keep their heads down in the Polish ghetto while their son Addy tries to escape Europe, their daughter Halina works for the resistance, and their daughter Mila desperately tries to protect her young child. We Were the Lucky Ones is a story that crosses continents and generations to provide a unique and heartbreaking story of the cruelty and devastation of World War II.

I read a lot of books set in this time period. This kind of historical fiction has to do something extra special to draw me in. This time, I read rave reviews all around and as it turns out, they were right. Hunter does an excellent job of showing the very different experiences that Jews had during that time. It also covers a greater span of time than most of these stories, since it begins in March of 1939 and goes through the spring of 1947 as people emerge from the literal rubble of Europe and try to find their family. Each chapter begins with a brief overview of what was happening in the war so the reader understands what is about to happen, even if the characters do not yet.

Some reviewers say that the characters are not fully developed here, but I think the missing component is the opportunity for preference. The characters here have no choice other than survival and there is no place for us as the readers to know someone's favorite food or the thing that drives them crazy because living for another day takes everything these people have. We do get a bit more development from Nechuma, the matriarch and Addy, one of the sons who is in France at the beginning of the war. Nechuma can show us who she was during an entire lifetime and Addy has the security to fall in or out of love and think about the music he wants to compose. Ms. Hunter has not deprived us of robust characters; rather, she reveals just how much focus is required to survive when every choice could be the last one.

As a young woman, Georgia Hunter discovered that her family survived the Holocaust as Jews in Poland. She interviewed her surviving relatives and began to piece together what they done and where they had been. Hunter admits that there were some things she could not find, so this story is part family history and part fictional account. Whether each event is fact or fiction, the vein that runs through this story is just how quickly everything can change; for these characters and for victims of modern wars, there is no such thing as safety in a war zone. If you are a reader who enjoys books set in this era or just enjoys a carefully told story about family, We Were the Lucky Ones is a book you must read. Once you meet a  mother determined to see her son again, a wife who will give everything to break out her husband, and a husband storming a fortress for the safety of his family, you will never forget them.

We Were the Lucky Ones
By Georgia Hunter
Viking February 2017
416 pages
From the library

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

I'm back!

I had the best intentions, friends. I was going to schedule posts for this week after I told you that I was jetting off to Scotland.

But then I didn't. I left Tuesday evening with my mom and two flights later, it was Wednesday morning in Scotland and we were off to visit my sister. She has been studying at St. Andrew's this semester and we decided we should see her and Scotland before she came home!

We visited beautiful castles, a writer's museum, and ate so much food. We met my sister's friends and saw where she had been living and taking her classes. I still did a good amount of reading; really, it's not that hard when you have a six hour flight. I finally read One Hundred Years of Solitude after it languished on my bookshelves for years (like I bought it at Borders kind of years). I also read Lilli De Jong, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, and A Bridge Across the Ocean.

Now I am trying to catch up on my life and looking forward to my birthday and the 24 Hour Readathon this weekend!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Nonfiction mini-reviews: A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea and How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen

Doaa Al Zamel was a young woman living in Syria with her parents and siblings. It became too dangerous to stay in their home and the family fled to Egypt. They settled for a while, thinking they might just find some peace and happiness. Doaa fell in love with a man named Basseem and they started to think about marriage and starting their own family. Then the regime and climate in Egypt changed and they were harassed, assaulted, and unable to find work. Doaa and Basseem decided to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. Their journey does not go at all according to plan and Doaa, Basseem, and the rest of the people on the ship found themselves abandoned in the water. A Hope More Powerful than the Sea is the tale of Doaa's incredible survival.

Author Melissa Fleming is the chief spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and she writes in the afterword of this book about her search for one particular story that would help the general public understand and empathize with the plight of refugees. When she read this one, she thought it was perfect fit. Doaa's story is indeed heartbreaking and compelling, but it feels very distant from the reader. I imagine some of that is due to Doaa and others working through a translator and then other reporters and colleagues contributing pieces to this book. I wish that we felt more like we interacted with Doaa, but her story is a vital one for everyone to understand just what refugees go through in their attempts to reach safety.

A Hope More Powerful than the Sea:
One Refugee's Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival
By Melissa Fleming
Flatiron Books January 2017
From the library

Joanna Faber grew up in her mother's shadow. After all, her mom was one of the authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. When Joanna found she was still having trouble with her small children, she teamed up with her friend Julie King to write a guide that built on her mother's research but focused on toddlers and preschoolers. These moms draw on their own experiences, an understanding of psychology, and the stories of hundreds of parents to create a book that is indispensable for moms and dads.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen works as both a general guide and instructions for very specific circumstances. The authors provide parents with a set of ideas that they refer to as the parenting toolbox, like acknowledging feelings, making things fun, giving a choice, or problem-solving with your child. These tools are then shown in application at bedtime, when your child lies, and during the madness that is trying to get out the door in the morning. This is a book that I will be referring to often, as I navigate life with my little girl.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen:
A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7
By Joanna Faber and Julie King
Scribner January 2017
Read via Netgalley

Monday, April 10, 2017

It's Monday and the crazy continues!

Hi fellow bibliophiles! How are things?

You know what ensures that this time of year is never boring? Working in a church and having a husband who is a pastor. In the weeks leading up to Easter, things get downright hectic around here. Then we throw into the mix a 3rd grader who is off from school, a 3 year old who does normal toddler things (like cut off half of her hair with her brother's scissors), and my prep for a trip after Easter.

After typing all that out, I feel slightly better about the frantic list-making that is going on in my house right now. But that doesn't mean that reading has stopped. As it turns out, the reading has actually been quite plentiful this week! I'm trying to get through a stack of library books before I go away. So I read We Were the Lucky Ones, The Parents' Guide to Boys, The Princess Diarist, and A SeparationI started listening to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, because we all need to listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda read a book.

Now I'm reading The F Word. This will be my second foray into the books of Liza Palmer, after I enjoyed her Girl Before a Mirror. 

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: A Simple Favor

Stephanie is a widow who is raising her son Miles in the suburbs of Connecticut. She is thrilled when they become good friends with fellow mom Emily and her son Nicky. One day, Emily asks for a simple favor: Stephanie picks Nicky up from school and keeps him at her house until Emily gets home from work. But Emily never comes home. Sean, Emily's husband, returns from a business trip and starts frantically searching for his wife along with Stephanie. The two parents do their best to keep life normal for their children, but Stephanie can't shake the feeling that something is very wrong. Emily is missing, and she is the only one who knows Stephanie's darkest secrets.

I picked this book, at least in part, because it had to do with motherhood and friendship. These are things I look for in books because they are big parts of my life. But it turned out that the characters in this story care little for their relationships and parents who are dedicated to their children are pretty regularly mocked as naive and stupid. I don't necessarily need characters to be kind or good, but I do like them to make sense. In this story, their actions often seem haphazard as they contradict things they just revealed.

In spite of this, A Simple Favor is a story that makes for a quick and compelling page turner. It has been compared to Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. The perspective switches between Emily, Stephanie, and Sean, and you can be sure that none of these people are reliable narrators. If you enjoy thrillers and books about twisted people making bad decisions, this might be the perfect book for you.

A Simple Favor
By Darcey Bell
Harper March 2017
304 pages
Received for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher

Want to learn more about this book? Visit Harper Collins here
Want to read some more reviews? You can find the rest of the TLC Book Tour reviews here.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Audiobook Review: Shadowshaper

Sierra Santiago is ready for the summer, to spend time with her friends and work on the mural she has been commissioned to paint. But strange things are happening in her neighborhood: people are disappearing and a zombie crashes a party. Sierra learns that her grandfather, who has recently suffered a stroke, was a part of a group called the Shadowshapers. They can utilize magic through stories and art and Sierra discovers she also has this ability. With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, she must find out who is attacking Shadowshapers and save her friends and family.

Many readers loved this story and I agree that Daniel Jose Older has created a fabulous protagonist, a fascinating kind of magic, and a vivid community of characters. But the best part of this book for me was the narration by Anika Noni Rose. She brings Sierra and every character to life with specificity and nuance. She could probably narrate a dictionary and I would listen with rapt attention.

There is so much going on in this story. You feel as if you are walking the streets of Sierra's Brooklyn neighborhood with her and it is clear that Older took care to ensure that each character is unique and well-known to the reader, even among the large group of Sierra's friends. I did occasionally wish we had some more information about the way that the magic of shadowshaping works, but we are learning through Sierra's eyes and so we are just as new to it as she is. There are several points in the story when Sierra isn't sure what she should do next; I'm pretty sure we would be the same if we suddenly discovered we were heirs to a complicated and dangerous kind of magic. I am excited to see what evils will infiltrate Brooklyn next and how Sierra will come into her own as a woman and as a shadowshaper.

By Daniel Jose Older
Narrated by Anika Noni Rose
Scholastic Audio 2015
7 hours, 21 minutes
Listened to via the library

Monday, April 3, 2017

It's Monday; thank goodness for Facetime!

Hey friends!

I spent much of the evening in a lovely Facetime session with my sister and brother-in-law in California, so I have just a few minutes to squeeze in this post before heading off to bed.

It's been a pretty good week around here. D lost a tooth, which means he lost two teeth in as many weeks. I had a meeting about some new editing work, so I'm excited to start working with them and grow my little editing business.

I read The Hate U Give, which was just as well-written and thoughtful as everyone says, and A Simple Favor for a TLC Book Tour. I also squeezed in The Magnolia Story, which will make you smile if you love watching Fixer Upper on HGTV.

Right now, I'm reading We Were the Lucky Ones, one of many books in my giant library pile.

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

Vasilisa's world is ordered by the fierce Russian winter and the dangerous forest just past her home. But she is happy with the love and company of her family, and she spends her time exploring outdoors and listening to her nurse tell stories of the ancient spirits who help and trick humans. After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father marries a woman from Moscow who shuns the local spirits and insists on a strict adherence to Christianity. Her stepmother and the new village priest forbid anyone to leave offerings for the spirits. Vasilisa and her family quickly discover that demons are more than willing to move in without the protection of their spirits. They will have to use gifts that have been hidden for years to protect their home and family.

I don't read a lot of fantasy, but I recently enjoyed Uprooted and was intrigued by this book's description. The Bear and the Nightingale drew me right in and left me sad when I turned the last page because I wanted more adventures and more time with our brave Vasya. Readers get to see her grow from a wild girl to a young woman who learns to use all of the tools at her disposal: brains, bravery, and maybe even some magic.

The true heart of this story is the vivid relationships between Vasya and her family. Throughout the book, we see the siblings fight for and with each other and the ways that a father makes both good and bad choices for his family. I am thrilled that we will get two more books with Vasya, her family, and the magic of Russian fairytales.

Make sure you pick up The Bear and the Nightingale before it gets too warm. There should be a chill in the air when you should experience Katherine Arden's gift for making the reader feel as if they are in the freezing Russian forest, wondering if something or someone is lurking behind the trees.

The Bear and the Nightingale
By Katherine Arden
Del Ray January 2017
322 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, March 27, 2017

It's Monday and I really need to write some reviews!

Hey bookish people! I didn't write a single post this week. Sigh. This is becoming a pattern far more often than I would like. We spent much of the week prepping for my husband's friends and their son to visit. They spent the weekend here and husband took them to the airport very early this morning.

So now it's back to the regular schedule. I guess I can always share the books I'm reading with you all, even if I have no reviews to speak of!

This week, I read By Any Name and Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

Now I'm reading The Hate U Give.

What are you reading this week?

Monday, March 20, 2017

It's Monday and it's been a long week.

Hi again!

We did indeed have a snow day this week and snowmen were made, snowballs were thrown, and chicken and dumplings were eaten. Then it was back to real life for a few days. This weekend was a bit more eventful than I would have preferred, as I spent most of Saturday keeping my dad company in the hospital. After a lot of tests, his doctors gave him the all-clear and I am happy to report he is back home. I am feeling a bit tuckered, though.

I'm still reading though, whatever else may be going on in life! My tally for this week is How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen and The Keeper of Lost Things.


I'm currently reading By Any Name, which is written by one of my favorite authors as a teen - Cynthia Voigt!

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: Hag-Seed

Felix is a much-revered director who is ready to present his vision of The Tempest at the Makeshiweg Festival. But his devious assistant convinces the board to fire him, so he can take Felix's place as artistic director. Felix descends into depression and isolation with only his imagined daughter Miranda. Years later, he takes a job teaching Literacy through Literature at the Fletcher County Correctional Institute. Felix teaches the inmates about Shakespeare, with the goal of finally bringing his Tempest production to life. And maybe in the process, he can finally get revenge against the men who ruined his career.

As an English and Theatre major in college, I am very familiar with The Tempest. It must be difficult to re-imagine a classic play that is so beloved by so many people, but Margaret Atwood is an excellent choice for the job. While this story is not a direct update of its source material, there are obvious parallels; Felix is reeling from loss and betrayal and he deeply loves his daughter Miranda, although in this version, she has been dead for many years.

I would have read a Margaret Atwood story about a man's fall from grace and the power of the arts all on its own, but finding all of the ways the story references and intersects with its source material makes a great reading experience a lot of fun too. We even get to imagine what happened after the final words of the play. Felix is committed to teaching the inmates just how much Shakespeare has to say about their lives, explaining that the play they will perform is all about power and prisons. As Felix watches his cast experience The Tempest, we see that even the most seasoned of Shakespeare performers and scholars can find new things each time they open the text. As we read Hag-Seed, whether it's our first time with Propsero or the fiftieth, we have that chance to discover it anew too.

Hag-Seed is a part of Hogarth's collection of Shakespeare re-tellings. Here are my thoughts on Vinegar Girl, a retelling of Taming of the Shrew.

By Margaret Atwood
Hogarth October 2011
301 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Nonfiction mini-reviews: Born a Crime and The Broken Way

Trevor Noah is known to many as a comedian and the host of The Daily Show. But his childhood certainly did not suggest that he would have international fame--in fact, Noah's very existence was illegal as a bi-racial child in South Africa. He writes about his upbringing with a strong and devout mother, a large extended family, and infrequent visits with his white father. Reading this book confirms that Noah's humor is not confined to a tv studio and gives us insight into the difficulties of growing up in South Africa during apartheid.

A lot of readers talk about books that actually make them laugh out loud, but I don't experience that very often. This was a rare exception, and I often found myself laughing and then reading a passage out loud to my husband. Noah strikes a careful balance here as the hilarious stories are often a result of the poverty and discrimination he faced as a child and young man. While you might laugh at his youthful attempts to persuade his mother that they really didn't need to attend a third church service, things become a bit more serious when his mother throws him out of a moving taxi on the way to said service because their lives were in danger. While the stories are arranged somewhat haphazardly, I loved reading them and perhaps the loveliest thing is that there are no stories about his success as a comedian and television personality. Instead, readers are treated to the highs and lows of a bi-racial boy in South Africa who could be anyone facing similar problems; we just happened to get the hilarious and thoughtful stories of Trevor Noah.

Born a Crime
by Trevor Noah
Spiegel and Grau November 2016
304 pages
Read via Netgalley

"Who doesn't know what it's like to smile thinly and say you're fine when you're not, when you're almost faint with pain? There isn't one of us not bearing the wounds from our own bloody battles. There isn't one of us who isn't cut right from the beginning." Ann Voskamp opens this book with the discovery that one of her children is suffering from the same demons that haunts her: the need to cut open her arms and let out the pain. Slowly, carefully, and with grace and beauty, she wonders if there is something beautiful and worthwhile to be found right in the midst of our greatest pain.

So often, we are tempted to hide the difficulties we are struggling with at that moment. It just seems so incredibly vulnerable to give voice to the things that are breaking our heart. In The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp invites us to follow in Christ's brokenness and asks if maybe we find true community when we share exactly those moments of heartbreak. When we embrace other's brokenness as well as our own, we find healing together. It sounds simple in theory, but it's tough to actually carry out. I think this book is one I will be reading and thinking about for a long time.

The Broken Way
A Daring Path Forward into the Abundant Life
By Ann Voskamp
Zondervan October 2016
288 pages
From the library

Monday, March 13, 2017

It's Monday and we're going to have a snow day!

Oh my goodness, have you heard it might snow? We live in New Jersey and it seems like the only thing anyone can discuss is the impending snow storm. Fear not, we have been to the grocery store and we have a good supply of books. We will be just fine.

This week I read Girl in Disguise, a novel that imagines the life of the first female Pinkerton agent. I was the last person to read Between the World and Me, and then I finished off the week with the heart-wrenching A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea

         A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee's Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival    How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7

Now I'm listening to The Signature of All Things and reading How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen. What are you reading?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Graduating to Chapter Books

As parents, we are always on the lookout for milestones with our children. We diligently record (or try to remember to record) when they took that first step or lost their first tooth. We take pictures on their first day of school, so we can remember their brave smiles the first time they climbed onto the bus all by themselves.

Some of those milestones are literary. We proudly record our little ones parroting back a favorite board book and keep the report card where their teacher extols their reading habits. And somewhere along the way, our kids go from snuggling close while you read Courderoy and Madeline to reading a book Percy Jackson all by themselves.

But the transition itself can be tricky. How do you take your child from picture books to chapter books? You can't jump straight from The Cat in the Hat to Harry Potter, of course. Here are some suggestions for the little reader who needs some longer books!

1. Grow with a character 
If your child already has a character they know and love in picture books, check to see if you can also find them in chapter books. I know that Fancy Nancy evolved into Nancy Clancy chapter books and Cam Jansen has both easy readers and chapter books for your young sleuths.

2. Branches Books
These books from Scholastic are specifically written for kids who are between picture books and chapter books. There are several series here, and each one is illustrated and has short chapters. My toddler is currently enjoying the Missy's Super Duper Royal Deluxe series.

3. Kate DiCamillo
Hi. Huge Kate DiCamillo fans here. She seems to have a wonderful understanding of what transitioning readers want in their books and her Bink and Gollie, Mercy Watson, and Tales from Deckawoo Drive books are all in high demand around here. And they make this mom laugh, which is some serious icing on the cake if you are the one who is doing the bedtime reading.

4. Stories instead of chapters
Some of the trouble of chapter books is the sheer number of bedtimes it will take for you or your little one to read to the end. Sometimes it works best if you are reading one story at a time instead of one chapter at a time. The Winnie the Pooh books are perfect for this and you could read a mystery or two with Nate the Great before lights out.

5. Have hope
There are several series out there that are perfect for kids just starting chapter books. The trouble, of course, is finding them. We have had a lot of success with the Princess in Black books as well as Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robots series. When in doubt, look for chapter books that have pictures or ask your neighborhood librarian!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Review: Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Marie's life is shattered when her father commits suicide. In the wake of his death, she and her mother take in Ai-Ming, a friend of the family. Marie is a bit in awe of the older girl's knowledge and certainty, but she is also wary of the reason that Ai-Ming is there: she was involved in the protests in Tiananmen Square and had to flee China. The two families were connected long before the girls were born, when Ai-Ming's father taught Marie's father at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien follows these two families for decades as they grapple with love, betrayal, art, and what it means to be true to yourself.

I love reading historical fiction, but I often find myself starting at piles of WWII era stories. It was nice to read about a different country and time period, as this book takes readers through the Cultural Revolution up into the 1990s. Thien gives readers a historical overview while also showing very specifically the uncertainty and pain that comes with a government that constantly changes administrations and rules. Like a lot of historical fiction, Do Not Say We Have Nothing moves in dual narratives with Marie in the present and her father and Ai-Ming's father in the past. While this kind of narrative device tends to fall flat for me, it was stunning here. As I read, I was aware that I didn't know everything yet but I was happy to settle in and slowly find out how these people were connected and where they would end up.

The best stories are both universal and specific. While the decisions these characters must make are because of the specific time and place that they live in, every reader can relate to the shock of discovering you don't really know a loved one, the mystery and power of story, music, and history, and what we are willing to sacrifice as an individual living within a family or a community. I fully understand why this incredible book made the Man Booker shortlist for 2016. I will be thinking about the characters and their stories for a long time.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing
By Madeleine Thien
W.W. Norton and Company November 2016
480 pages
From the library

Monday, March 6, 2017

It's Monday and things are moving right along....

Hi guys! It's me! I'm up bright and early, quietly typing so as not to wake up my tiny (and very cute) shadow. I need to get this post up and finish up a grocery list while making sure the big kid gets to the bus on time.

How was your week? Things are ok around here. I'm trying to stick to this exercising thing, even though everything known to woman (including short toddler naps) seem to be conspiring against me. I'm also strangely feeling the pull of this spring cleaning thing and starting to consider deep cleaning my house and organizing closets. This weekend, I took the kids to see a high school production of Beauty and the Beast, since their grammy (my mom) was doing an incredible job playing the keyboard for the production. The 9 year-old gives it rave reviews, and the 3 year-old loved it minus the parts with the wolves and the angry beast where she hid her face on my shoulder.

Ok, time to talk reading! I feel like I read The Casual Vacancy for a million years, even though it only took me a week. I finished listening to Shadowshaper and I am officially a fan waiting anxiously for book 2.

Now I'm reading Girl in Disguise. What are you reading this week?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: Bellevue

When someone mentions Bellevue, most people have an image of a hospital for the insane. But Bellevue Hospital in New York City has been a haven for the ill for decades and it is the birthplace of some of medicine's most important innovations. David Oshinsky takes readers into Bellevue's exam rooms and basement laboratories from its birth as a public hospital and poorhouse to its development of the first ambulance corps to recent history when the hospital served as a refuge for patients with AIDS and was the last NYC hospital to keep its doors open in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Reading Bellevue reminded me why I enjoy good nonfiction so much. This book presents the specific story of one hospital and a much larger one of New York City over hundreds of years and the medical progress that we have made in that time. For those of us living now, it's difficult to imagine an era when we wouldn't go to a hospital. But for many years, those with means would be seen in the comfort of their homes and hospitals were only for those who truly had no other choice, like yellow fever victims in the 18th century. Bellevue was the place for patients no one else wanted to take in throughout its history. These doctors treated soldiers injured during the Civil War, people poisoned from bad alcohol during Prohibition, and drug addicts.

Bellevue doctors and surgeons were the first to develop an ambulance corps in the United States, figure out how to perform surgery on a battlefield, and spearhead the idea of public health to keep people from needing the hospital in the first place. But Oshinsky doesn't shy away from discussing the failings of Belleveue's staff either. Frank Hamilton was the surgeon summoned to treat President Garfield after he was shot. Unfortunately, Hamilton (and some of his Bellevue colleagues) were the last holdouts regarding sterile surgery procedures. His refusal to clean his hands or surgical instruments likely played a role in Garfield's demise. Readers will also find out just why Bellevue has a reputation as a mental hospital (although Oshinsky seems to downplay this aspect). It was a place where many advancements in mental health occurred, alongside some truly awful treatment decisions. Dr. Lauretta Bender is a prime example of a doctor who made some questionable choices. She took over the children's psychiatric ward in the 1930s and regularly used electroshock therapy on her young patients, never acknowledging the ethical problems with this treatment.

Bellevue is a fairly long and impressive look at hundreds of years of history, both medical and otherwise. As I read through the final chapters, though, I wish that Oshinsky had given us more information about the storied hospital in the last fifty years. I would have loved to read more about the things that the innovators at Bellevue are accomplishing now and what they hope to contribute to medicine and to New York City in the future.

Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital
By David M. Oshinsky
Doubleday September 2016
384 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, February 27, 2017

It's Monday again. How is everyone doing?

Hello ladies and gentlemen! How are things?

We had a typically busy week here with a little switch in our weekend. My husband was the guest preacher at the church that we grew up in. It was fun having my kids in Sunday School with the teachers who taught me and I loved singing with a long-time friend. This week, D has Read Across America week and I'm doing my best to potty train BG. Please send all prayers, good wishes, and bottles of wine to our house.

What have I been reading this week? I finished Madeleine L'Engle's Camilla, which is about a girl realizing the failings of her parents and falling in love for the first time. Then I read Ann Voskamp's new book The Broken WayI raced through The Bear and the Nightingale, which is perfect for a long weekend.

Next up for me is J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. I'm listening to Daniel Jose Older's Shadowshaper. It was finally my turn in the library queue and I'm enjoying it so far!

What are you reading this week?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Audiobook Mini-Reviews: The Book of Unknown Americans and Brown Girl Dreaming

When their daughter Maribel has a terrible accident, Arturo and Alma make the difficult decision to move to America to get her the best possible care. The Rivera family moves into an apartment complex with residents from Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Panama. Maribel soon becomes friend with Mayor Toro, a boy who sees her as just beautiful and not someone who sometimes becomes confused or loses her train of thought. Just as the Riveras begin to settle into their new life and Maribel and Mayor see the start of a romance, things begin to fall apart with devastating and irreversible consequences.

This book was fantastic in so many ways. I loved the universal story of parents trying to make the best life possible for their child and young love, and I loved the specificity of Henriquez writing vignettes from many people in the apartment complex that describe their journeys to America. The Book of Unknown Americans is a full cast audiobook, which means you get a different narrator for each character. This was an inspired choice and it made the lives and stories of each person you meet seem real. I highly recommend listening to this book if you want to read it.

The Book of Unknown Americans
By Christina Henriquez
Penguin Random House June 2014
9 hours, 12 minutes
From my library

Jacqueline Woodson's childhood spanned the 1960s and 1970s all the way from New York City to South Carolina. In Brown Girl Dreaming, she tells her story in verse as she remembers frequent moves, a childhood that was both idyllic and troubled, and her growing realization that she was meant to be a writer.

This book is one of the few that manages to effortlessly blend a specific moment in American history with a universal story about growing up. It's a book that is marketed as middle grade, but it is resonating deeply with readers of all ages. Woodson reads her own book and you can hear her wryly remembering moments of humor and the grief she still carries from the tough times. While many readers adored this as an audiobook, I think I would have been better off reading it in print. It's tough to fully appreciate the writing when your experience is interrupted by a kid's request or the oven timer going off. In spite of this, I can appreciate why it is both important and much beloved and I will certainly remember this book for my kids to read.

Brown Girl Dreaming
By Jacqueline Woodson
Penguin Random House August 2014
3 hours, 55 minutes
From my library

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Review: Difficult Women

Roxane Gay is an author who is revered for her novel An Untamed State, as well as her essay collection Bad Feminist. This is her first major short story collection and it is just as powerful as her other writing.  

These stories feature women in a variety of situations, but each one of them is dark and heart-wrenching. The first follows a pair of sisters united by childhood trauma and willing to do whatever is necessary for their sibling's safety and well-being. The title story is one the most powerful, as we see one woman's life through tiny vignettes as she makes a life for herself, protects herself with anger and exercise and car keys, and raises her son. Our unnamed protagonist is described as loose, frigid, and crazy at various points and there is an unavoidable feeling that she is fighting a battle she cannot win.

Some have a touch of magical realism, like the story of a woman who is followed by water wherever she goes. Others are all reality; in Florida, Gay takes us behind the closed doors of an exclusive gated community where the long-time residents try to hold onto their power and prestige, a new resident wonders if she will ever belong, and a fitness instructor pretends she isn't bothered by the way the residents treat her.

These tales are dark and violent and full of sex and anger and loss. The women in these stories are not necessarily difficult by nature; many of them become "difficult" because of the traumas they have encountered. Short story collections can often by uneven, but this one is incredible from the first story to the last page.

Difficult Women
By Roxane Gay
Grove Press January 2017
260 pages
Read via Netgalley

Sunday, February 19, 2017

It's Monday and it's a long weekend!

Hi everybody! How was your week?

I am really hoping that I remember that D has no school tomorrow. I'm not great at remembering those days off for the smaller holidays like President's Day. It's been a pretty good week around here. D had a solo sleepover with his grandparents and the beautiful warm weather over the weekend was a lovely surprise. It's always great when you can send the kids out the back door and let them play all afternoon. Reading in a hammock in the sun isn't terrible either.

This week, I read Do Not Say We Have Nothing. It's gorgeously written and it requires some serious attention on your part because it's a long book with a lot going on. Then I read Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. It taught me about apartheid and South African history, made my heart ache a bit, and actually made me laugh out loud. What more could you want?


Now I'm reading Madeleine L'Engle's Camilla as part of my effort to read everything she wrote.

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: This Is Where You Belong

Melody Warnick, like many people, was a frequent mover. After settling into her fifth home in just a few years, she wondered what it would take to make this place feel like home. Warnick begins researching what makes people love their towns and then embarks on a set of experiments to fall in love with Blacksburg, Virginia. Can shopping local, marching in a parade, or inviting her neighbors over make this a place where her family will want to stay?

I was really excited to pick this book up. We moved four times in the first five years of my son's life. Now that we've been in our current town for a few years, I feel like we should have more of a sense of community. We live adjacent to a private high school, and most of our neighbors are close-knit faculty members who aren't knocking at our door to invite us over for a barbecue. I was eager to find some ways to feel more connected to our town.

Melody Warnick has a warm and personable writing style. You don't feel like she's looking down her nose at you because she has walked in your shoes. Each chapter seems to be a good balance of research, interviews with other people, and her own experiences. She writes candidly about her efforts, both good and bad, and even gives readers a handy checklist at the end of each chapter. Instead of just relating the stories of doing random acts of kindness on her birthday and volunteering at a local indie movie theater, she advises readers to find things that break their heart and use that as a starting point for volunteering. 

While this book does provide many specific actions you can take to love the place you live, the moral of the story is that a place feels likes home when you love it. Love of a place is equivalent to how much you invest in its success, so Melody Warnick and her readers (maybe even this one) will be refocusing their efforts to attend a local festival, join a CSA, and even eat a meal with their neighbors.

This Is Where You Belong
By Melody Warnick
Viking June 2016
320 pages
From the library

Sunday, February 12, 2017

It's Monday. Happy (almost) Valentine's Day!

Hello bookish friends! Everyone hanging in there?

It's been the usual amount of crazy around here, but husband and I did manage to get a kids-free dinner thanks to a Parents Night Out at our church. I have been confused about what day it is since Thursday, when D had a snow day.

This week, I read (and really liked) Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. Then I read Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It was interesting to me because you can see so much of the groundwork for Life After Life. I also finished reading Faithfully Feminist. I've been reading a couple of essays each day for a few weeks.

Now I'm reading Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Have any of you read it?

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: The Mothers

Nadia is searching for traces of her dead mother everywhere. Her father doesn't want to talk about her so Nadia seeks answers at Upper Room Church, which was the last place anyone saw her mother alive. She finds some solace with Luke, the pastor's son, and Audrey, a new friend. But Nadia soon finds herself pregnant and the choices that she and Luke make will have repercussions for years for themselves, their families, and their church.

The Mothers has been the recipient of a lot of literary buzz this year, particularly because it is Brit Bennett's debut novel. The title refers not just to the mothers of our protagonists, who have let them down, kept information from them, and abandoned them. It also refers to a Greek chorus of sorts that is made up of the mothers and grandmothers of the church. These mothers ruminate on the joys and sorrows of their congregation, as well as the things they warned the younger generations about and the things that they failed to see.

In some ways, this is an examination of the ways our relationships change as we get older: we fall in or out of love, our friendships drift apart or become stronger, we find ourselves wanting to go back home often or never. I loved that one of the strongest parts of the novel was the friendship between Nadia and Audrey. We get to witness the unlikely beginning and see how both women make their friendship stronger and put other things before it.

This novel succeeds at being a book that is full of current issues, but is never defined by them. As a black girl, Nadia can't escape the reach of both racism and sexism as her family, her community, and the world at large are determined to interfere with her life and choices. Brit Bennett has written a wonderful novel on so many levels and I am thrilled as a reader that we have a lifetime of her work to look forward to.

The Mothers
By Brit Bennett
Riverhead Books October 2016
278 pages
From the library

Sunday, February 5, 2017

It's Monday. Can we get a different week, please?

What a week. I find myself feeling particularly weary. Parenting has been a bit, well, challenging this week. People seem to be particularly nasty and careless lately. I feel like we could all use a little bit of kindness and a few easy days right about now.

Anyway, let's talk books! I read The Wicked City, a novel about a modern woman's connection to a 1920s speakeasy. I finished out the week with Uprootedwhich I have been meaning to read for way too long.

I'm still reading Faithfully Feminista collection of essays about Christian, Jewish, and Muslim women who make space for feminism within their faith. I like reading essay collections, but I usually find myself needing some faster reading to go with it, so I'm reading Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed

What are you reading this week?